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Lance Armstrong's downfall now complete

By John Leicester

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 22 2012 8:47 p.m. MDT

The doping doubts were always there from 1999, even if too few sports administrators, sponsors, journalists and other riders paid sufficient attention to them. A positive urine test for banned corticosteroids at the 1999 Tour was explained away and covered up by one of Armstrong's doctors, a former team masseuse testified years later. A book in 2004 where the same masseuse said she gave Armstrong makeup to hide needle marks on his arm was met with writs from Armstrong's lawyers and furious denials from him. In 2005, a French newspaper reported that laboratory researchers in Paris found EPO in Armstrong's urine samples from the 1999 Tour, test results that raised yet more suspicions but couldn't be used to sanction him.

"Witch hunt," Armstrong said.

That became one of his favored phrases.

It was the same one he used in 2010, when federal investigator Jeff Novitzky dug into doping in cycling and Armstrong's role in it.

It was the phrase Armstrong directed at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency — the organization that eventually nailed him, succeeding where everyone else and hundreds of drug tests failed.

USADA did that by getting former teammates to talk. Novitzky's investigation, abruptly shut down by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. with no explanation this February, at least seems to have had the merit of helping to loosen tongues.

The Feds "placed a gun and a badge on the table," said McQuaid, and the Great Wall of Silence that teammates had maintained around Armstrong and their shared secrets crumbled.

USADA's 1,000-page dossier, published Oct. 10, was damning because it included affidavits from 11 of Armstrong's former teammates — page after page of testimony about injections with EPO and banned blood transfusions, of being supplied with EPO by Armstrong and seeing him inject, of being pressured to dope and bullied by Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel, the team manager and brains behind Armstrong's Tour wins.

The weight, the detail, the precision of the testimonies was together so much more compelling than the fact that Armstrong, as he so liked to remind everyone, never failed a drug test. In fact, it helped elucidate how that could be.

Former teammates explained how they used subterfuge to beat testers. Tyler Hamilton said they simply hid, not answering the door if a sample collector showed up. Doctors helped with dosages and injection methods so drugs would flush quickly out of their systems. There was no test, and still isn't, to show that riders were re-injecting themselves with bags of their own blood. Bruyneel seemed to know in advance when testers were coming, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie testified.

USADA's report looked so complete that for McQuaid and his federation to ignore the evidence would have been almost unthinkable. There was speculation before his Monday press call about what McQuaid would say. In hindsight, however, it was clear he had little choice but to rubber-stamp USADA's conclusions, ban Armstrong and take away his Tour wins, white-out all that yellow — the color of the Tour leader's maillot jaune jersey — that he had expropriated as his color and that of Livestrong.

"I was sickened by what I read in the USADA report," McQuaid said.

Now, on the wreckage of the demolition of the Armstrong myth, cycling has to rebuild its credibility. There's a mountain of still unanswered questions about who else may have facilitated doping in the Armstrong years, who else was involved, whether they should be encouraged to confess and how that might be done. Can McQuaid's federation, long suspected of being cozy with Armstrong, be trusted to clean up? Should top riders be chaperoned 24/7 at the next Tour to ensure they're not still trying to beat what McQuaid said is now an improved anti-doping system?

"Cycling has a future," McQuaid said. Quoting John Kennedy, he said cycling's biggest crisis is also "an opportunity."

But this didn't feel like the time or place for that — not when the frightening enormity of the past is still sinking in.

Armstrong — a pariah in the sport that turned him from a nobody into a somebody and, now, back into a nobody again.

"This is the story of a real talent who lost his way," said Prudhomme, the Tour director.

That downfall cannot, should not, be forgotten.

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

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